There is no doubt that Ryan Adams is one talented fellow. 1997’s Stranger’s Almanac still stands as the best southern release since R.E.M.’s Murmur, with its combination of driving rock and strangled emotion. Whiskeytown, and Ryan, in particular, stumbled around for years after that, and this final release is from a band that no longer exists. Adams has a solo record out on Bloodshot, and Caitlin Cary, violinist and the only other longtime Whiskeytown member, released a great if short solo record last year. So fans of the band are left with a few records, memories of live shows that ran the gamut from incendiary to horrid (when Ryan was in his cups, most likely) and now, Pneumonia.
The nearest analogy for this record I can muster is this: Ever have relationships that started out great, and set new records for sexual frenzy? Then as time went on, the spark went away and the sex was just• okay? Remember how totally unpleasing it was? Well, if Stranger’s Almanac represents the four-hour porno audition version of Whiskeytown, then Pneumonia is the “oh yeah, it’s Wednesday,” dial it in, boring sex of a dead relationship type. Adams has stated recently that one of the reasons he disbanded Whiskeytown was to pursue “quieter” music. If he gets any quieter than this disc, the boy is gonna be dead. This is a dull record. All the music (with one really bad exception, noted below) sounds the same, a rather pale imitation of mid-period Dylan. Very subdued and sedate from a man who has in the past been able to make your heart cry and ears ache at the same time.
None of the spark that fueled Whiskeytown in the past seems to be burning on this record, and while he creates some nice turns of phrase, Adams just sounds bored, which he may well have been. The only spirited cut is “Mirror, Mirror,” and it’s just terrible. Why? Because on it, Ryan Adams has been cruelly replaced by Billy Joel. And not just a passing resemblance, either. This is a dead-on, swarmy horn-fest that sounds like an outtake from 52nd Street or whatever that wretched thing was called. Ack.
Like so many great bands, Whiskeytown is no more. We can be glad for what they did give us, and scour the ‘Net for unreleased cuts and live shows, but if Pneumonia is what lay ahead for the band, then we’ll raise our glass of Jim Beam to the memory of what was, and avoid this last record like a bad hangover.
Lost Highway: http://www.lost-highway.com